I wanted to surf the Oregon coast, or at least have a good look at it. The guy at the border didn’t seem to believe me when I told him that was my reason for heading south. Well, I wanted to check out Portland too, and I did mention that, of course. Showing up at the American port of entry at 1 a.m., he gave me a look like, “Okayyy. But what else are you up to.” They do that to try to break you, to scare up some nerves.
“You seem nervous,” he offered.
But when you’re genuinely interested in examining a West Coast oceanic vantage point you’ve never taken in before, you can breathe easy, because if the surfboards on the roof of your car don’t do the trick, you know it won’t be long before the fact you consider wave-watching and beach-hopping serious bizness shines through.
They called it the Ides of October storm. They called it Typhoon Songda. The tropical cycle quickly raced up the meteorological charts to become the fourth most intense tropical cyclone of the Western North Pacific Ocean region to date this year. Like all gargantuan weather phenomena, it had humble beginnings, in this case monitored by scientists all the way from Minami-Tori-shima, a Japanese coral atoll about 1,800 km southeast of Tokyo, onward.
The colossal interplay of wind and water gathered steam and reached its peak of 185 km/h winds Oct. 11th. It was as highly pressurized as the worst tropical cyclones on record. And while its power began to wane, it still had a clearly defined eye late into Oct. 13, the day I ventured from Portland toward the coast. The violent natural spectacle still had plenty on its mind, and was due for reinvigoration.
There were rivers in the highway to Cannon Beach as I wound my way up and down Cascadian hillsides, and when I arrived one thing became abundantly clear. I wouldn’t be doing any surfing, at least not successfully. This was definitely a unique moment in the life of this portion of America’s West Coast.
Just days had passed since a disturbing shark attack shut down Indian Beach, one of the local surf spots in the area, with experts pointing to the possibility it could have been a Great White attack. I had met a couple girls at a bar downtown a couple nights before and one of them had a brother who had been surfing nearby over the weekend. He got dragged along quite some ways by a weird rip, towards the site of a beached humpback whale.
It stunk like shit.
“That looks like a good way to die,” the little girl said to her mother, at the Cannon Beach ocean viewpoint at the end of the road. “That looks like a good way to die.”
I thought she might be over-exaggerating, so I decided I’d at least try to get to Smuggler’s Cove, if not to surf, at least to see if anyone else was attempting it.
I drove south.
Along the way I pulled over to the side of the road near a bunch of cute vacation rental cottages. You looked down on expansive beachfront with a wild side. You saw mountains of water spilling in all directions, ocean folding into itself, creating massive peaks and troughs, only to spray billowing foam everywhere as it sloshes back and forth.
It reminded me a lot of Ucluelet’s Wickaninnish Beach going all-out in the middle of winter. You know where you try to paddle out and don’t make any progress whatsoever.
It was getting darker and the storm was picking up. When I opened my car door I thought the door was about to get ripped off. I took what pictures I could, but I couldn’t help but notice something else. The powerlines close overhead began to look more like sine waves than straight lines or gentle curves.
The best comparison would be to imagine the telephone poles were schoolgirls and the wires were the skipping ropes being snapped up and down by the overexcited youth. The stop sign wiggled back and forth. I heard things creaking that shouldn’t. I realized this is what it looks like to be in a tropical storm news video. What a cliché, I thought. It felt exhilarating.
I started to notice debris on the road. It was obvious I wouldn’t be driving back to Canada on the coastal highway. I would have to backtrack to Portland. I was almost ready.
I just wanted to see Smuggler’s Cove first, but the window was closing.
As I raced down a steep decline, a semi-trailer climbing slowly in the opposite direction flashed its lights at me. I was trying to figure out why. A giant evergreen was stretched out across the slick two-lane road just several hundred yards further down. I braked hard and stopped just in time. It’s a good thing I instantly gave up my Smuggler’s Cove quest, pulling a quick three-point turn and revving my way back up the hill, because seconds later I saw a car floating down the hill, with another right behind.
I tried to flash my lights to get their attention, but I guess they didn’t put two-and-two together because while the first card seemed to stop in time, the second one managed to rear end it. The power went out at the brewery as I left the coastal community with a radio station I’m pretty sure I was able to pick up from Long Beach on Vancouver Island once. I had to dodge fallen trees on the large ascent inland two or three times.
I saw a power line explode just in front of me, on the right hand side of the road. It was a quick surge with a burst of yellowish-white sparks.
I was glad to make it back to Portland. Typhoon Songda’s leftovers would continue to produce breathtaking sights, inspire myriad artistic works and deliver blackouts to Tofino-Ucluelet. My ferry was delayed as I tried to return, and the impacts would continue to be felt all weekend.
The awesome dose of oceanic action I got in Oregon was an extraordinary experience, even if I didn’t make it in the water.